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Letter 46: Advertising and Signage, Designation of Branches

On May 10, 1983, this office issued Banking Letter #35 which provides guidelines for the use of trade names and common designations by banks for advertising and signage. Banking Letter #35 by stating that a common designation may be used by a unit bank and its branches contemplated that a single common designation would be used by all of the branches of the bank.

This office has received inquiries regarding the ability of a bank to adopt a unique designation for one or more, but not necessarily all, of its branches. The purpose of such a unique designation is to identify with a particular market segment or to emphasize certain products or services offered by the bank.

Banking Letter #35 has already determined that the adoption of a designation for use in advertising and signage is not inconsistent with the Wisconsin banking law. The designation should include the word "bank," and may or may not be accompanied by words describing the geographic location of the branch. The designation should not be similar to the name of any bank with which the bank adopting the designation is not affiliated.

The use by a bank of a unique designation for one or more of its branches raises certain concerns. The use of a unique designation by a branch may create the illusion that a banking customer is doing business with a separately chartered bank. The obvious problem is that a customer may establish a depository relationship at more than one branch of a bank believing that accounts are being established at different banks. The customer may assume there is greater federal deposit insurance coverage of the accounts than will actually be provided on the accounts.

To assure that there is no confusion to the public, when a unique designation is used, any signage, advertising, letterheads, printed materials, or promotional materials, must clearly and conspicuously identify the branch as a branch and must disclose the name of the bank. Designations such as division, group, unit, or other similar designations are unacceptable.

Bank management should be aware that Section 100.18, Wis. Stats., imposes serious penalties for making fraudulent representations which are untrue, deceptive, or misleading in any advertisement, announcement, statement or representation.

A Wisconsin state chartered bank must use the approved legal name in its charter on all official documents including its checks and other negotiable instruments, and must comply with the provisions of Chapter Bkg. 8.04, Wisconsin Administrative Code.

Bkg. Ltr. #46, February 20, 1992, Commissioner Sherry